Statement by H.E. Archbishop Bernardito Auza
Apostolic Nuncio, Permanent Observer of the Holy See
Seventy-fourth Session of the United Nations General Assembly
First Committee - General and Complete Disarmament
The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons in all its aspects (98 q)
and assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them (98 o)
New York, 25 October 2019
The Holy See regards the United Nations Program of Action to Reduce, Combat, and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in all its Aspects and its accompanying International Tracing Instrument as vitally important tools for the effective promotion of fundamental human rights, international law and international humanitarian law, as well as a crucial component for the promotion of peace and development. As the Secretary-General stated in his 2018 Securing our Common Future: “High levels of arms and ammunition in circulation contribute to insecurity, cause harm to civilians, facilitate human rights violations and impede humanitarian access.”
The Program of Action and the International Tracing Instrument enhance respect for life and the dignity of the human person through the promotion of a culture of peace. It is clear that greater international cooperation and assistance will be needed in order to restrict severely, and ultimately eradicate, the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons.
A secure world is essential for development and thus for the fight against extreme poverty. Pope Paul VI famously said in 1967: “Development is the new name for peace”: an affirmation that prefigures the interconnectedness of the goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which states: “There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.”
In this regard, my Delegation believes that it is important not to undervalue the role of quality education. We have to give a response to the challenge of so many young people falling prey to recruitment into armed groups. Dragged into situations of violent conflict not of their choice or making, they find themselves caught up in perpetuating cycles of violence that sadly become a way of life. Even young children are more adept with instruments of destruction than the books and pens they really need to develop as responsible human beings who can build, in their turn, a lasting, more just and peaceful society.
Education is also important at all levels of society and for people of all ages to dissuade them from making an unjust use of weapons. Just as we must use every effort to combat the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, similarly, we should strive to counter the very demand for these weapons. As such, the implementation of educational and awareness activities aimed at promoting a culture of peace and life is necessary. Such an approach seeks to overcome the culture of violence. The ultimate goal uniting us in this area is the protection of the life and dignity of each human person. For this reason, it seems appropriate to ensure, even in this process, the centrality of the human person, and therefore to emphasize the importance of considering the human dimension in facing the problem of illicit trade in arms.
Shamefully, moreover, there are those who earn a living and accumulate great wealth through trafficking in these instruments of death – whether licit or illicit - thus providing the means for criminals and terrorists to achieve their deadly activities and even for governments who would engage in armed aggression against sovereign states or subvert their internal peace and tranquility.
Recently, Pope Francis has pointed to other aspects connected to the circulation of arms, especially when their availability aids and abets the protraction of deadly conflicts in the developing world where “countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars, he noted, [may] “only [directly] affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees generated by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the ‘crumbs’ of the banquet”. This dynamic prevents people from achieving their full integral development, as they are forced to flee from their homes and countries, leaving behind everything. All evidence shows that the proliferation of weapons aggravates situations of conflict and results in unimaginable human suffering and material costs, profoundly undermining development, human rights and the search for lasting peace.
The illicit trade in small arms and light weapons can only be fought and won through international collaboration and a vigorous implementation of international, regional and bilateral agreements on the matter. Without such cooperation, especially among weapon-producing States, to control and limit strictly the production and movement of weapons, a world free of wars and violent conflicts will remain an illusion.
Moreover, the lack of control of the movement of such weapons resulting in the rampant cross-border arms trafficking also feeds other nefarious activities closely linked to it, such as terrorism, the trafficking in persons, the illicit trade in drugs and other forms of organized crime.
It is for all these reasons that the Holy See, through the means proper to its nature and mission, fully supports all efforts in the fight against the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons. It welcomes the progress that was made in the Third Review Conference, held last year in New York, and urges all States to build on this progress at the Seventh Biennial Meeting of States to be held in June of next year.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
1. Pope Francis, Message for the 105th World Day of Migrants and Refugees, 29 September 2019.